One of the most interesting things about the Christmas season is the way it makes everyone so... contemplative. 'Tis the season for the making of plans, the tallying of accounts, and (for those Festivus-celebrants among us) the airing of grievances. Part of it, of course, is due to Christmas' position at the end of the calendar year; but part of it seems to be because of our goal, every year, to get Christmas "right."
This year we're going to spend less. Or eat less. Or bake better Christmas cookies (and then eat fewer of them). This year we're going to start a new tradition, or give only locally-made gifts, or try to make it through the weekend without fighting with our relatives.
This year we're going to send our cards on time; do our shopping on time; wrap everything in wrapping paper made with 100% post-consumer content. We're going to destress, take our children to the Nutcracker or the animal shelter, give them more presents so they won't feel the pinch of the economic season or give them fewer presents so they will learn the joy of being satisfied with less.
We're going to find the perfect present for everybody, but we're not going to make Christmas about the presents, because that's not what Christmas is about.
This year, we're going to learn once-and-for-all what Christmas is really about.
As this kind of thinking passes through our minds the way a Lionel engine meanders on electric tracks by the three little carolers cast together in red-and-green plastic, in another direction comes another train, this one traveling on an introspection born of uncertainty.
What if she doesn't like what I bought her? What if I picked wrong? What if they think my house isn't clean, or that I've put on weight, or they don't like the movie, or they don't eat the cookies; what if there's nothing to talk about, or we start fighting after all; what if the bread doesn't bake or the pie doesn't jell or we can't get tickets?
What if they don't get me what I wanted? What if all of my presents are so wrong that it means that no one was paying attention, and then why weren't they paying attention???
What can I wear so they think I'm successful? What can I show them so they think I'm interesting? What can I feed them so they think I can cook? What should I put in my house, or plan for our time together, so they understand that I understand what Christmas should be?
And this whole thing takes months, sometimes. Thinking and shopping and essay after essay in the New York Times (et al) about how to plan a meaningful Christmas, a stress-free Christmas, a low-cost Christmas, an anti-consumer Christmas, a healthy-food Christmas, a fashionista Christmas, a spiritual Christmas, a secular spiritual Christmas, a magical Christmas, a right Christmas, the Christmas where we all finally prove that we know what Christmas is all about.
And in the meanwhile we get all discombobulated and short-tempered trying to work out the various cross-purpose equations. (This is where the grievances start to get aired, unfortunately. It's no coincidence that Festivus is celebrated on December 23.)
And then in my case on Christmas morning itself my family arrived while my hair was still wet and before I had a chance to light the twenty-four glittering tealights (uncheck the "appearing successful" and the "magical decorations" boxes), and in everyone else's cases it was something else a little bit different but a little bit the same, and the truth is that we muddle through the day like we do every year, and then it's over.
The squash turned out well; the Hello Cupcakes were a huge success; I tried a new way of baking bread which caused the crust to stick to the pan (but the upper 3/4ths of the bread tasted fine). I gave a few good presents, and received my long-awaited toaster as well as a MAGIC BULLET (which was UNEXPECTED and SO AWESOME!!!!!). Later we all went for a walk, to see the fifty Christmas trees outside the White House.
And now it's over. (And I've got about an hour-and-a-half left of being contemplative before I chuck it and start looking at the twenty-four fabulous cooking things that the Magic Bullet can do for me. ^__^)
I wrote at the beginning of all this that I didn't know how to create a celebration out of such a high-maintenance, cross-purposes holiday. (Yes, I know I used "cross-purposes" twice now. Is there a better way to describe Christmas?) And I've decided, now, that I don't know at all what Christmas is "all about," but we got a good meal out of the day, and a pleasant walk, and my parents get to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle while I get to plan out how to use my Magic Bullet to make my own hummus.
And I was about to end the post there... when I got a link, via Twitter.
The Christmas season began with a man getting trampled to death at a Wal-Mart.
It ended with a blogger raising enough money (from anonymous donors) to keep her friends from losing their home.
Forget the twenty-four tealights and the recycle-paper Christmas cards and even my amazing Bullet. Forget the introspection and the contemplation. That's Christmas.